Stags Shake Stortford from Summit
By Ian Dunnett
Hertford Men’s 1st team beat Bishop Stortford 1sts on Saturday by a single score in seven, thanks to a hat trick from Scott Apps in a frenetic first half.
Regular full-back pairing Elliot Barling and Taylor Weeks were unavailable so James Rollins moved to right back with Adrian Fileczki reinforcing midfield making his first appearance since September following a hamstring injury, with Archie Akers coming in up front and skipper Ian Dunnett fit again after recovering from a side strain, replacing Mike Branford.
The game started at a pace which set the tone for the first 35 minutes. The visitors were ably distributing from the back and had a set of willing runners in midfield creating space to venture forwards.
As has been the case on too many occasions this season, Hertford conceded the first goal. Despite a couple of chances to clear, the hosts gave up possession on the left side of their defence. Stortford’s bustling forward got the luck of a deflection returning possession to him, wriggling free across the circle and firing in a fizzing reverse stick shot which beat Tom Smith through his legs before he could react.
The goal was the wake-up call Hertford needed. Keeping tighter control of the ball, and rotating their forwards they created more room to attack. Good interplay down the right hand side saw Rollins and Nick Downer combine to feed Apps in the circle, whose quick hands won a penalty corner.
The set piece effort was too central to beat the keeper but the rebound fell kindly for Apps who made no mistake in slotting home the equaliser.
Neither side were letting up, as Stortford struck again. A quickly taken free hit on the edge of the 23 caught Hertford napping. Two forwards snuck in behind the last line of defence and exchanged passes to create a simple finish.
It wasn’t many minutes before Hertford drew level again. Another foray down the right from Rollins created the opportunity to supply Apps in the circle. Surrounded and with plenty still to do, Apps pirouetted one way to beat two men, and then circled back the other, finding the yard he needed to unleash a tomahawk into the bottom corner.
Before Stortford could react the home side took the lead for the first time. Again the right hand channel proved the best way forward, as a ball into the circle caused confusion in the visitor’s defence with the keeper and two other men all going to the ball. Akers got his stick in to gain possession, selflessly squaring for Darren Norman who had a simple finish to make it 3-2.
Having achieved a turnaround Hertford were caught, perhaps in a moment of over-confidence. Rollins, being too cute in playing out from the back, had his pass intercepted. With the right-back out of position, Stortford had an overload as they moved the ball quickly to a supporting midfielder. Given too much time and space he struck a pass to his unmarked teammate to deflect in at the back post, levelling the tie at 3-3.
With the pace of the game it was always likely that tackles were going to be mistimed. Arthur Twyning made a clever lead into the left channel, spinning his man, only to be clattered from behind to win a penalty corner.
Apps obliged with a delightful drag-flick into the top-corner to complete a first half hat-trick and to take his tally to 18 goals in nine games this season.
Hertford still had some work to do before the break. Norman had an enforced two minute rest, clumsily barging into a defender when trying to regain possession after a heavy touch, and then - after breaking from the line early - the hosts had to defend a penalty corner a man short. Dunnett managed to read the intended routine and make a clearance on the to maintain the slender advantage.
Unsurprisingly, both sides tightened up their approach in the 2nd half, but the intensity and quality of play didn’t let up.
Smith was called into action on numerous occasions, getting good distance on his clearances and closing down the forwards to prevent a shooting angle.
Fileczki was doing well to disrupt the rhythm of Stortford’s play in midfield, winning possession at full stretch a number of times before mis-timing one effort which earned him a green card.
Simon Halfacre was ignoring his heavily strapped shoulder, being fully committed to full length dives to get a flat stick to the ball, with his centre-back partner Ben Tootell using the aerial route to relieve the pressure.
Jamie O’Sullivan was also having to clear the ball under pressure, with one reverse stick hit going awry, narrowly avoiding a bevvy of onlookers enjoying the entertainment.
As Stortford had to press for an equaliser some inevitable gaps appeared at the other end. A clever through ball from the ever creative Luke Camilleri set Twyning away, but his hesitation at the top of the D allowed the keeper to slide in, as Akers had acres to his left.
The hosts had to ride their luck at times, as twice penalty corner drag-flicks were only denied by the metalwork with Smith a spectator.
As the frustration and level of urgency grew for Stortford they became less precise in their approach, with their final two chances of the match harmlessly rolling over the back line as passes were misplaced in their rush to get the ball forward.
The win is Hertford’s first competitive victory over Bishop Stortford 1sts and sees them move up to second in the table in Division 2S, just two points behind Bedford 2nds.
This weekend Hertford will be looking to continue their good form as they play their last game of the first half of the season, facing bottom of the table Witham. Hertford have never scored against the Essex outfit, losing their two previous encounters by a an aggregate score of 10-0.
Hertford - Tom Smith; James Rollins, Ben Tootell, Simon Halfacre, Jamie O’Sullivan; Luke Camilleri, Ian Dunnett, Nick Downer; Arthur Twyning, Scott Apps, Darren Norman. Subs - Adrian Fileczki, Archie Akers